Sunday, June 21, 2015

"The Food Truck War"

There are very few places left that have not been battlefields.   
- Jean Merrill, The Pushcart War

Throughout elementary school each day after lunch our teacher would read to us. With the lights off and our heads down, we would hear the next chapter from the current book.

In this way, over the years, I traveled twenty thousand leagues under the sea with Captain Nemo; watched Homer Price make donuts in Centerburg; spent time on the farm with a pig named Wilbur and his friend Charlotte, a spider; visited Henry, Jess, Violet, and Benny in their boxcar home; and, traveled to the dark planet Camazotz with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace.

In the fifth grade, I met Frank the Flower, Morris the Florist, General Anna, Harry the Hot Dog, Mr. Jerusalem, Carlos, Papa Peretz, and Eddie Moroney - street peddlers, propagandists, and guerrilla fighters in the asymmetrical conflict that would come to be called, The Pushcart War.

In the winter of 1964, Mrs. Becker, substituting for Mrs. Kidwell, who was out on a prolonged sick leave, read to us this children's novel. That year its author Jean Merrill would receive her second Lewis Carroll Shelf award for her allegory of entrenched business interests and a complicit city hall trying to clear the streets of small peddlers who were deemed to be just getting in the way.

The School Library Journal placed The Pushcart War on its list of One Hundred Books that Shaped the Century (that is, the 20th Century). Certainly it was a book that had its part in shaping me. The account of peddlers organizing with their pea-shooters to go after the crushing wheels of the BIG trucks was a child's "rules for radicals."

For most of my life - at least since the fifth grade - The Pushcart War was allegorical. "Peddlers with pea-shooters," a metaphor for the small standing up to the big. That is until recently. To paraphrase the opening line of Jean Merrill's novel:

"The Food Truck War started on the evening of June 8, 2015 when the city clerk ran off a food truck belonging to a pizza peddler."

It will be said that the city clerk was just enforcing the law. Yes, he was and so it seems was every member of the Rochester city council as well as the Department of Public Works. The pea-shooter question to ask is whose interest does this law - duly enforced - serve?

The only food truck foe we hear from in the reporting is the local owner of a national pizza franchise. A small business itself to be sure, but you only need to be bigger to be "big". You are bigger still if you can bring to bear a full line-up of elected officials, city departments, and a law so well-suited to your needs. That's plenty big enough. Anyone without all that is smaller.

Running this food truck off the streets and then invoking "fairness" as the reason to do so doesn't sound very fair to me. Hoping to run them out of town because you "don't think there's a place for it in Rochester" sounds not fair at all. Stuff like that hasn't sounded fair to me since I was ten years old.

Even the president of the city council seems to think there is enough food business to go around. But he has "no plans to review the food truck rules." He thinks "the rules are fairly clear cut." Yes, the rules are fairly clear, but are they clearly fair?

Children's stories are very often subversive. These stories portray simple virtues simply. In the world of grown-ups, few things are more subversive than simple virtues simply put. The president of the city council says he thinks "there's room for everyone to play." A virtue our parents struggled to instill in us from the first moment we encountered a "playmate" was: Share.

Anyone who punches down or tries to pull the ladder up after themselves never learned to share. Or, they have forgotten that the lesson was usually taught when we didn't want to share, but were told to do so anyway. Because sharing is the right thing to do.

It's encouraging though that, if the comments on the reporting are any indication, there is a battery of pea-shooters at the ready. Maxie Hammerman would be proud.



Kutsky Market | 1001 6th St NW, Rochester, MN | Wednesday, July 1 | 11am - 2pm

Calling all hungry foodies and Rochester residents: a food truck rally is coming to town. To support changes to Rochester City rules, local food trucks and food truck supporters will come together for a food truck lunch event.

The Rochester Trolley & Tour Company will ferry hungry food truck enthusiasts between Downtown and Kutzky Market parking lot (1005 6th Street NW). At Kutzky Market, a number of food trucks will serve their unique food and refreshments. Attendees will have the opportunity to voice support for (or opposition to) changing existing rules as it relates to food trucks.

Charette Happens, of Design Rochester, will be on hand to guide a discussion about food trucks in Rochester and what the community would like to see happen in the future.

The Food Truck Summit aims to be the beginning of a much-needed conversation in Rochester about how the City will address food trucks going forward. Despite featuring food trucks, this event takes no concrete position nor agitates for a specific new rules. Instead, it aims to engage all stakeholders with the hope of creating proactive, forward motion.


  • Old Abe Coffee Co
  • BB’s Pizza
  • Don’s Crumbled Beef
  • Anthony’s Wood Fired Pizza
  • El Carambas
  • Mama Meg’s Parlour 
  • Tonic Local Kitchen & Juice Bar
  • (with more to come)

Trolley boarding station, Marriott, 101 1st Avenue SW. It will run every 15 minutes. 11:15am, 11:30am, 11:45am, 12pm, etct
First Trolley to Market: 11:00 am
Last Trolley back downtown: 2:00 pm

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